Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

California Good Samaritans Hunted to Extinction By Lawyers

GruntDoc and Symtym have brought a California Supreme Court decision to the attention of a lot of people. This is an important bit of legal folderol, except it is not of little value. This can cost you a lot of money. In two posts, California gets even more screwed up: predictably, Good Samaritans (Decent People) hardest hit and More on the California Good Samaritan debacle, GruntDoc describes how he feels about these lawyers at play in the fields of the hourly rate.

California’s Good Samaritan Law and the Byzantine California Supreme Court decision,[1] that is an example of legal Three Card Monte, come from GruntDoc and Symptym. Ten gallon hat tip for all of this.

Well, I wasn’t going to be getting to sleep anyway, if this tedious and juvenile attempt at parsing the legislative intent didn’t put me to sleep. Perhaps it is the near toxic dose of caffeine that foiled their attempts at sedating readers of their decisions. The attempts to defy logic are not so easily explained.

First, I am not a lawyer.

Does that matter?

It shouldn’t. The goal of the Good Samaritan Law is simply to encourage people to help others, when professional rescuers are not already there. The extent of the encouragement is to make it difficult to be found at fault, in a law suit, for injuring the person they are trying to help. That’s it. Let me print it right here.

No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.[2]

And I should explain what the emergency was. It seems that the patient was partying with the defendant and others, smoking some marijuana, drinking some alcohol – the usual behavior of a fine upstanding citizen preparing to drive. The patient was not driving, but her car was involved in a crash in Topanga Canyon. A nice ride – when sober. I hesitate to speculate that being stoned and drunk had anything to do with the vehicle leaving the roadway. The Good Samaritan defendant was in another vehicle, why limited the stoned drunk driving, when you can form a caravan. She was also not driving. The second driver pulled over to assist (apparently he is not a lawyer). The defendant went to assist the passenger, pulled her from the vehicle, and did not move her away from the vehicle, although she claims that it was about to explode. The patient suffered an injury to her spine that resulted in paralysis. This decision makes no attempt to determine if pulling the patient from the vehicle has anything to do with the paralysis, whether leaving her in the vehicle would have made a difference. We do not know. The justices were just playing around with how many ways you could provide care dancing on the head of a pin. It’s what some justices think they are supposed to do. No mention is made of whether the justice in the majority were smoking marijuana at the time of the decision. If we were to emulate their reasoning, we might find them guilty of intoxication without any evidence., but by creatively and inconsistently twisting the intent of the possibly related laws.

I could give plenty of examples of the sleight of hand used by those in the majority, but it all boils down to this. They assume that when the word medical is used, or when the law is included in a medical section of the legal code, that is significant. That wording tells us exactly what was in the minds of the legislature. The legislators all think with one mind. They all vote together for exactly the same reasons. How could anyone ever suggest that there is discord in a legislative body. They vary from being elegant in their subtlety to making Dick and Jane books seem cryptic. Fortunately, the justices understand exactly what was in the mind of the legislators – It is not what the legislators wrote.

When these omniscient legislators leave out the word medical, we should not pay any attention to that. The legislators made their intent abundantly clear in vague language elsewhere. Only the interpretation that this is designed to encourage provision of medical care to someone who does not need rescuing, can be drawn from the law.

I will provide one quote from the dissent:

Thus, in the majority’s view, a passerby who, at the risk of his or her own life, saves someone about to perish in a burning building can be sued for incidental injury caused in the rescue, but would be immune for harming the victim during the administration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation out on the sidewalk. A hiker can be sued if, far from other help, he or she causes a broken bone while lifting a fallen comrade up the face of a cliff to safety, but would be immune if, after waiting for another member of the party to effect the rescue, he or she set the broken bone incorrectly. One who dives into swirling waters to retrieve a drowning swimmer can be sued for incidental injury he or she causes while bringing the victim to shore, but is immune for harm he or she produces while thereafter trying to revive the victim.[3]

The justices clearly did consider the contradiction between what the wording and their interpretation of the intent of the legislature. The dissenting justices also found for the plaintiff, but did not agree with the reasoning of the majority. The dissenters felt that the behavior of the defendant, apparently stoned and drunk, was not consistent with her claim that she thought the vehicle was about to blow up.

Now that this is quite clear, you should understand that the first rule of the House of God[4] (as modified for pre-hospital use) should be – At the scene of an emergency the first procedure is to take your own pulse call a lawyer for a consultation about whether this is an emergency, whether the emergency is medical, and whether you are trained to the level of an untrained person. In other words, you should film this, because a person dying on film could be worth some money to you. If you do anything that is not medical, but is an attempt to help, you should expect to pay money to anybody who might have an injury. At least, if you have any money left after paying for all of the lawyers.

I received my basic EMT and paramedic training in California. Nobody ever suggested such an interpretation of the Good Samaritan Law in any of my training. Our training was to help people. The specifically idiotic parts of the EMS law did receive special attention.

The Good Samaritan Law was written by a bunch of politicians. Suggesting that they were so careful in their wording in one place for a specific reason, while their vague wording in another place has no specific reasoning is ridiculous. The idea that they were thinking along these lines, these are the same politicians who write all of the other laws in California, is giving them too much credit. The law was written to encourage by-standers to help. As interpreted by this court, it has the opposite meaning – Do not help.

Footnotes:

^ 1 S152360
Van Horn v. Watson (or whatever they decide to call it)
Full Text PDF


^ 2 California Health And Safety Code Section 1799.102
Good Samaritan Law from onecle.com

^ 3 S152360
Van Horn v. Torti (or whatever they decide to call it, but how is that for an ironic name?)
p. 18 and 19/32 of the pdf counter.
Full Text PDF

^ 4 Rules of House of God
by Samuel Shem
some description from Respiratory Therapy 101: Just Keep Breathing in
Rule Three

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